Craig A. Evans has written an article on the Clement letter including the Secret Gospel of Mark as being a forgery, Doubting Morton Smith and Secret Mark, which has been favourable received among the forgery proponents. This has also triggered a debate between James F. McGrath here and here, and Craig Evans here. At the end of his article Evans writes that the full text of his “York paper will be published under the editorship of Tony Burke and Phil Harland.” Since he at his homepage publishes the paper Morton Smith and the Secret Gospel of Mark: Exploring the Grounds for Doubt, which he says is a “Paper presented at a conference hosted by York University, Toronto, April 2011. To be published in conference volume”, I suppose that this is the York paper to be published.
Anyway, I will take a look at Evans’ York Paper, Morton Smith and the Secret Gospel of Mark: Exploring the Grounds for Doubt. Evans has obviously skipped some of his not so well thought-out arguments, which he put forward in his book Fabricating Jesus and to an even greater extent when he acted as an “expert” for Lee Strobel in Strobel’s book The Case for the Real Jesus (see my article One Thousand and One Untruths: How Reliable Is the Account of Secret Mark by Lee Strobel and Craig Evans?).
Evans’ paper is some sort of summary of most of the arguments which are put forward as evidence that the Clement letter is a forgery and that Morton Smith is the forger. On the whole Evans’ arguments are a rehash and a repetition of arguments already put forward by Stephen Carlson, Francis Watson, Bart Ehrman and others. One could say that Evans’ paper makes a nice summary of all those arguments. I will therefore obviously not be able to answer and try to refute every single argument. This is on the other hand not necessary, since most of the arguments already have been met and often fairly thoroughly refuted by others and some also by me.
I will however concentrate on those issues on which Evans spends most of his time. He says that the reason why he views the find with grave suspicion is “that Smith possessed knowledge of distinctive elements of the Mar Saba find, prior to his finding it”:
“… what I find most troubling is that themes of interest to Professor Smith, as seen in his publications before the finding of the Clementine letter, are found in the Clementine letter. And these are not just themes of interest to Professor Smith, they are quite unusual themes and, apart from Professor Smith himself, they are themes advanced by no one else. In what follows two unusual themes will be explored: (1) The “mystery of the kingdom of God” and prohibited sex, and (2) Markan materials omitted from Mark that exhibit Johannine traits.” (p. 8)
I will begin with the “’mystery of the kingdom of God’ and prohibited sex”.
In order to make such a connection Evans need to show a) that Smith actually made a “linkage between secrecy and prohibited sex”, b) that such a linkage would be seen as something quite unusual and c) that the teaching of the mystery of the kingdom of God in Secret Mark has to do with prohibited sex, or sex whatsoever.
We can leave point b) aside, since the probability that Smith by chance would have dealt with issues he later were to discover are difficult to calculate and therefore to evaluate. But in order for Evans’ equation to work both a) and c) must be true. Because if Smith made no linkage between secrecy and prohibited sex, it makes no difference if the teaching of the mystery of the kingdom of God in Secret Mark would turn out to be about prohibited sex. And the other way around, if the mystery of the kingdom of God in Secret Mark has nothing to do with prohibited sex, it makes no difference if Smith would have linked secrecy with prohibited sex. As it turns out, neither of the assertions seem to be true.
Although, as I said, this paper by Evans constitutes a vast improvement compared to previous attempts by him, it still has logical fallacies and also factual errors on issues on which he should not, or even could not, be unaware of.
Already in the first paragraph Evans says the following:
“What makes the find controversial is that in one of the passages quoted from this Gospel Jesus teaches a naked young man the ‘mystery of the kingdom of God.’”
But you only need to have the ability to read in order to see that the young man is not naked:
“And after six days Jesus told him what to do and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body.”
As anyone who can read ought to be able to see, the youth is not naked as he wears a linen cloth. If you wear a linen cloth you are not naked. “He only wore a pair of trousers and a t-shirt over his naked body”. This means that he is dressed. One could of course argue that the youth intended to take off the linen cloth, but this will have to be a pure speculation built on no facts at all. And Evans does not even discuss this possibility, but simply asserts that the young man was naked. On top of this he also extends this assumption on page 27 to include Jesus as well, when he writes that “Jesus (in the nude?) instructs a new convert”. For sure he this time has a question mark, yet no discussion around the body of evidence for making such an assumption.
Now, one could say that this is just a trifle; some failed wording. But by saying that the youth was naked, Evans is actually dishonestly presenting something which is not true. The real problem here is though that this faulty assumption then forms the basis for much of his further conjectures.
Evans says that “forbidden sexual activities are hinted at throughout the Clementine letter, including and especially the first quotation of the longer edition of Mark”(p. 15–16). And it is correct that Clement is accusing Carpocrates for distorting the meaning of Secret Mark and the Carpocratians for dealing with carnal and bodily sins. But Clement also elsewhere in his unquestioned writings accuses the Carpocratians for these things, so this is nothing new. The real issue is what is said in the Secret Gospel of Mark, as this is where the mystery of the kingdom of God occurs. Evans (and others) can only make the connection if he can show that Jesus and the youth were indulging in some sex-act when Jesus was teaching the youth the kingdom of God. And there is nothing in the text that supports such a theory. The reasons for this are …
1) The excerpts from Secret Mark never say that there were any sexual activities between Jesus and the youth.
2) There is no example anywhere else, neither in Christian nor other writings, that the mystery of the kingdom of God would be a veiled expression for (forbidden) sex.
3) Jesus is also teaching the other disciples the mystery of the kingdom of God without anyone considering this to have anything to do with sexuality.
4) A youth wearing nothing but a linen cloth is also present in Mark 14:51–52, and the fact that he is stripped of his clothes, does not hint at (and has not been interpreted as) anything sexual.
5) The fact that the youth later is described as the one whom Jesus loved, does not imply anything sexual, as Jesus also elsewhere is said to have loved other people. And besides, the Greek word agapê, which primarily refers to Platonic love, is used.
6) Clement, who for certain represented the view among those in the Alexandrian Church where this Gospel was used, did not find anything sexual in the text. On the contrary, he quoted the passage in order for Theodoros to see the obvious himself.
So, even IF Smith would have linked the mystery of the kingdom of God to forbidden sexuality, this has no impact on Evans’ arguments since they are not linked in Secret Mark, and (homo)sexuality is no issue in the text.
To be continued …